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Lessons in Leadership

Ten Steps to an Exceptional Coaching Discussion

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Do you hate talking with employees about performance issues? Most managers do. But when you view coaching conversations as problem-solving discussions, the task often becomes much easier.

In an exceptional coaching discussion, both the manager and employee participate actively, sharing perspectives and ideas. Here are ten steps that will help you have your own exceptional coaching conversations:

1. Determine your goal.
Before the discussion, clearly define what you hope to accomplish. This will help you stay on track and avoid any distractions that the employee may introduce.

2. Appreciate strengths.
Employees with problems also have strengths, so be sure to mention what this employee does well. If the person feels that you recognize their good points, they will be more open to hearing your concerns.

3. Describe your factual observations.
In neutral, factual terms, describe the problem that must be addressed or the skill that must be learned. If problems exist, don't sugarcoat them. Be sure that the employee understands the problem, but avoid criticizing and blaming.

Example: Instead of saying “You obviously don't care about the quality of your work”, describe your observations: "Your last three reports contained inaccuracies in the data."

4. Discuss behaviors or results, not personality traits.
Your objective is to change what the employee does, not who they are. You will never change someone's personality, but you can alter their behavior.

Example
: Instead of saying “You have no initiative”, describe what they need to do: "Whenever you see a customer at the counter, you should immediately ask if you can help them."

5. Explain why it's important.
People often truly do not understand the effect of their behavior on others or on the work. So if there are performance issues, describe how they are adversely affecting coworkers, business results, yourself, the employee’s career, customers, etc.

Example
: "When your reports are inaccurate, that throws off all the market projections for next quarter" or "When you are late, other people have to answer your phone."

6. Ask questions to engage the employee.
Coaching discussions should be two-way conversations. To make it two-way, you must ask questions to understand the employee's point of view and engage them in solving the problem. If you do all the talking, the employee is likely to tune you out. You should ask a question immediately after you've described the problem.

Example
: "What do you think caused the inaccuracies in these reports?" or "What keeps you from helping a customer immediately?"

7. Get input on possible solutions.
Instead of dictating a solution, explore the employee's ideas. Employees will be more committed to their own proposals, and they often have good suggestions. If not, you can always propose a different approach. And remember that you, as the manager, may also need to make some changes to support the employee.

8. Agree on action steps and assessment.
At the end of the coaching discussion, you and the employee must agree on the specific actions to be taken and the timeline that will be followed. Schedule a follow-up discussion to assess progress. If you do not end with specific action steps, nothing will change.

Example
: "So we agree that as soon as you see a customer waiting, you will immediately go to the counter. I'll evaluate progress based on my own observations and complaints from customers. Let's meet again in two weeks to see how things are going."

9. End on a positive note.
Thank the employee for participating in the discussion and for their willingness to resolve the problem. Express your confidence in their ability to make changes and your desire for them to succeed. Offer to help in any way that is reasonable.

10. Follow Up!
If you drop the matter after one conversation, don't expect anything to change. When you fail to follow up, you send the message that the issue wasn’t really important. So - if no change occurs, then you must begin to discuss possible consequences.

Example
: "For the past two weeks, I have continued to observe customers waiting at the counter. If we can't resolve this problem, then I may need to move you off the sales floor" or "You have continued to be tardy at least 50% of the time for the past month. If this continues, it will be reflected in your performance review."

But - if the employee does change, express your appreciation!!
Example: "Your past two reports were 100% accurate. I really appreciate your making the effort to improve in this area."

Coaching Clinic

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